The city of Savannah has an abnormal number of private schools for the size of the city. The Savannah Chatham County Metropolitan School System has 61 schools ranging between all grade levels. There are 27 private schools that draw from children in the Savannah area. While 35,842 children attend any of the public schools 7,269 children attend a private school. That’s around 1/5 of all the kids in Savannah attending a private school.
Certain private schools in savannah have always been around, just like in other cities. In 1905, The Pape School was founded. The schools founder was Miss Nina Anderson Pape who always dreamed of starting a school. This became a well-known college preparatory school with a lot of parent involvement. In 1955, the name was changed to Savannah Country Day School, which is still around today.
In the 1970’s, more private schools were created and private school enrollment as a whole increased. This was caused by the force of integration for the sake of segregation of schools. More specifically, it came down to busing. Because of the then new law in effect after Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), all public schools were forced to be racially integrated. For example, a student could live in Windsor and even have attended his community school. But because of the integration law, he could be forced to go the Beach on the other side of town, passing three of four schools on the way. Students could no longer attend a school in which they felt apart of the community.
Even though society has come a long way since then, private schools in Savannah today still have a high enrolment rate. It is perceived by those parents that public school offers inferior education and that they are not as safe as a private school.
I examined one Savannah private school in particular to find out specific diverse statistics. The school I chose consisted of 78% Caucasian students, 11.7% African American students, 4.4% Hispanic students, 3% Multi-racial students, and 2.7% Asian students. Ethnicity was not the only diverse factor that seemed to lack. The diversity in religion backgrounds was found to be low with a 76.9% to be Catholic and a 23% of students to be of other faiths. The high school I chose was not only a private school, but also a Catholic secondary school for girls known as St. Vincent’s Academy.
Located in the historic downtown Savannah, St. Vincent’s was established in 1845 by the Father of the diocese. He brought six Sisters of Mercy down as staff. Since then, it has kept the same values and traditions instilled upon by the Sisters of Mercy. The school remains to be the oldest all girls Catholic school in America.
St. Vincent’s Academy started out as a boarding school and day school. It opened its doors to orphans, offering them a free education. The Sisters of Mercy’s Convent later became a Motherhouse. This offered a safe place for pregnant women to stay during their pregnancy. There were only 20 in Savannah during this time.
Despite it being an all girls’ school, it should be noted that one boy has attended this historical school. During the Civil War, the Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent his children Winnie and his son Jeff to be boarded at and attended St. Vincent’s Academy.
Most of the students are from middle class backgrounds. There are some students coming to the school through the Grace Scholarship, which offers a little financial aid. The Grace Scholarship is a full tax credit offered to the tax-paying individual. It is not advertised as to which students are receiving financial aid for the benefit of all to feel equal. The ethnicity of the school is made up of 78% Caucasian and 22% minority.
Though the school appears on the outside to lack diversity, from the inside many programs are established to do just that. There is also a study abroad program offered. Just recently a few students housed some Germany students that would also attend school with them. Those students will get to visit and learn from those same students who came and stayed with them. There is Model UN, which specifically targets research on people and events in the world today. A French club, Spanish club, and even Latin club are offered to all students interested in learning about different languages and cultures.
The school also offers accommodations for disabilities. There is a Resource teacher available to work with students who have academic needs. I know that when I attended this school, I not only got help from the resource teacher but also from every one of my individual teachers. I received extra time on my tests as well as recorded lectures, copies of notes, books on tape, and even one on one help. The teachers really wanted to see me and all my peers succeed. Together, the teachers, the priest, assistant principal and academic dean cater to the aide of those seeking emotional support.
Faculty and staff do not have to be of the Catholic faith or even Christian faith to work at this school. They need to be familiar with it, for the school is founded on Catholicism. To boot, a staff member who wishes to remain on the staff cannot go against the teachings of the church. Teachers do need to be aware of and sensitive to the fact of students not of the Christian faith, but the school shouldn’t apologize for being Catholic.
The private atmosphere as well as the Catholic instilled curriculum is a very unique characteristic to have. When single sexed is thrown in, it’s almost unheard of. Over the years, I have gathered many diverse opinions upon the school. I have found the results to be a hit or miss. For the most part, I found parents of students who have attended and students to love the school especially for its atmosphere. Occasionally though, I have come across someone who is not pleased with everything it has to offer.
I have found views from an outside perspective to be very different from the views of parent with children who have attended. Often, outside parents don’t understand why a religious single-sexed education is so greatly valued by others. But it is with both, the religious education and the single-sexed (female) education that this school was built upon.
The price of the school plays a role with the enrollment and diversity. While not every student who wants to attend but can’t afford it gets the opportunity, there are a few financial aids one can achieve. The first is scholarships established by individuals through the school. A parent, alumnae, or someone in the community can put money towards their own scholarship fund. Once the money has been set, the individual gets to decide the criteria. For example, they get to decide the grade point average as well as the financial income of the parents. After the criteria is established, it then turns over to the school board. The students applying for these applications must submit a paper on the topic of whatever the school decides. From there, the school selects students to fit appropriately with the scholarships offered.
While individual scholarships do help with the cost, it simply can only go as far as a few people. Luckily, as a result of the 2008 Georgia Tax Law, a scholarship fund was established called the GRACE Scholars. GRACE stands for Georgia Residents Assisting Children’s Education. This fund enables the individual taxpayers tax credit to go to the school of their choice. The money is then used 100% for the financial aid of students who qualify.
The requirements for this scholarship are the student must attend a public school, reach the academic standards, and meet the financial qualifications. Once a student receives the GRACE scholarship, they have it for four years as long as the academic and financial requirements are met. In the 2009-2010 school year, 18 students received the GRACE scholarship. Ten of those students came from Catholic families.
Although this school incorporates many diverse groups, its method of doing so is intriguingly different from any other school in Savannah, private or public. Religion can be discussed in the classrooms as opposed to in a public school where it cannot. Not only can religion be discussed, but also other religions and faiths can be taught, differing from most private schools. The individual scholarships and GRACE Scholar give a student from outside the private school system, a chance to have the faith depicted private school experience.
“Diversity within St. Vincent’s Academy.” Interview by Mary G. Sikes. Diversity.
St. Vincent’s Academy. Savannah, Georgia. Interview.
GeorgiaWomenofAchievement. (2005). In Nina Anderson Pape. Web.
Hunt, Thomas C. “Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent.” Encyclopedia of
Educational Reform and Dissent, Volume 1. Vol. 1.
Jantze, Nicole. “The Great Debate.” Savannah Magazine 2013: 84-100.
St. Vincent’s Academy Administrators. “St. Vincent’s Academy, Savannah, GA.” St.
Vincent’s Academy, Savannah, GA. St. Vincent’s Academy, Web.